There is no standardisation when it comes to IT service providers. ‘IT Support’, ‘IT Managed Service Provider (MSP)’ and ‘IT Outsourcing’ are terms that everyone’s familiar with, but every IT service provider has a different interpretation of them.
What one company will term an MSP, another will call IT Support, and they will charge accordingly. Ultimately, every client has a different requirement which requires different levels of support. It is therefore important to ask the right questions in order to make sure you are getting the service you are expecting as well as the service you need.
The first question is one you must ask yourself. What do you need as a company from your IT service provider? Are you looking to outsource an element of your in-house IT support in order to take advantage of economies of scale? For example, many organisations with their own IT department will outsource Helpdesk tasks, which allows their IT staff the time and resources to concentrate on strategic tasks. Alternatively, do you want to fully outsource all your IT functions and therefore need an external partner who will be proactive and guide you through your needs? If you want an MSP to help you achieve your business goals, you will be investing in their combined IT and business expertise and will expect them to be proactive in guiding you through what you need rather than waiting for your instruction.
To identify the provider with a proactive mindset, you need to ask open questions in order to get more detail from them, find out how they operate as a business, and how mature their business is.
If you’ve established you want an organisation that will help you achieve your goals, ask them how they will do this. What you are looking for is answers that show they will take an interest in and have an understanding of your business and how it works – including what your business goals are and identifying the areas that need to be closely aligned with your IT in order to help you achieve those goals. For example, if you operate globally with a mobile workforce, you will need a flexible IT solution. They will also suggest regular business reviews to ensure they are on track. It is not about trying to fix problems quickly, it is about having a strategy – in the same way that an internal IT team would. So are they going to make those recommendations or wait for you to tell them what you want (even though you might not know what that is – to coin a phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know”)?
This is an important question because the answer will give you an indication of the mindset of the organisation and demonstrate its maturity level. If staff are rewarded well with high salaries and receive regular training around company and individual needs, they are more likely to have a mindset more closely aligned with your business. It demonstrates that they will identify specific requirements such as career goals, CPD structure and training budget, and will have a reward scheme based on performance, results etc. If there is a level of maturity in that model, it usually indicates investment-worthy proactive management, not a simple, reactive format. It is not about getting the cheapest provision, which usually means a reactive mindset and may not represent good value for your investment.
You need to find out what their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are and the penalties for missing them. It is therefore important to establish KPIs, such as how quickly they pick up tickets, and timescales for responding to them and resolving them. Simply asking questions about the team’s level of experience doesn’t give an indication of the maturity of the organisation, its growth and its knowledge base. Technical staff with a greater knowledge usually work at a higher level and are not working on the front-line Helpdesk, so you need to find out whether there are technicians at a lower level who will respond to tickets quickly and effectively.
Most MSPs will prioritise tickets into different categories that reflect the work that will be needed in order to get things back up and running. Each category will therefore have a different SLA in order to manage expectations.
ITIL is globally recognised for its IT service management best practice methodology. ITIL certification is a quality standard for MSPs which demonstrates they can provide guidance on supporting business goals and growth. Its framework has a detailed list of processes that an IT provider should be following in order to categorise and resolve issues. By sending staff on ITIL training courses, a MSP is investing in its team’s proactive mind-set and in creating good client relationships.
Talking to a Helpdesk technician is not necessarily the best way to resolve an issue, and there are a number of issues that lend themselves to a self-service portal. A good example is the case of a password reset, which is a quick and simple request. It will probably take around 15 minutes for a user to log on, create a ticket and wait for it to be resolved. Through a self-service portal, this should only take a couple of minutes. If everyone in your company has to change their password once a month, the benefits to time and productivity are obvious.
A self-service portal will also have information about ticket progress and service requests, as well as information about workflow and tracking, plans for future projects, etc. A good MSP will also have useful How To guides which can be especially helpful for new staff inductions.
You need to find out if patches and maintenance will take place in or out of business hours. If your MSP is unwilling to work out of hours, this will result in downtime for your business. If routine work is always offered outside your working hours, this maximises the amount of time your staff can be productive. Again, it shows that the company is proactive and willing to invest in the service; they may well have invested in automated systems for maintenance scheduling. A provider that will only do routine maintenance during working hours in order to provide you with a cheaper service shows a potentially reactive mind-set.
An automated remote monitoring platform will alert your MSP to any issues as soon as they arise. This means that your provider can resolve a lot of IT issues before your staff even becomes aware of them, especially if the problem occurs overnight.